SAMKHYA What is Samkhya? Is it a new age philosophy? Or What form of philosophy is it?

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What is Samkhya?   Is it a new age philosophy? Or What form of philosophy is it?

Samkhya, also Sankhya, Saṃkhya, or Saṅkhya, is one of the six original schools of Hindu philosophy and classical Indian philosophy.    Samkhya philosophy is attributed to Sage Kapila. At a much later date, Sage Kapila described the 24 material elements in his Samkhya treatise. Samkhya and Yoga is often known as contemporary paths, in which Samkhya, the path of pure understanding is attributed to Kapila and Yoga the path of meditation and effort is attributed to Patanjali.   Sage Kapila is traditionally credited as a founder of the Samkhya School. It is regarded as one of the oldest philosophical systems in India. Samkhya is an enumerationist philosophy that is strongly dualist. Samkhya philosophy regards the universe as consisting of two realities: consciousness and phenomenal realm of matter. Jiva is that state in which puruṣa is bonded to prakriti through the glue of desire, and the end of this bondage is moksha.

Saṃkhya denies the final cause of Ishvara (God). Samkhya does not describe what happens after moksha and does not mention anything about Ishvara or God.

The word samkhya means empirical or relating to numbers. Although the term had been used in the general sense of metaphysical knowledge before, in technical usage it refers to the Samkhya school of thought that evolved into a cohesive philosophical system in early centuries CE. The Samkhya system is called so because “it ‘enumerates’ twenty five Tattvas or true principles; and its chief object is to effect the final emancipation of the twenty-fifth Tattva, i.e. the Purusa or soul.”   Both the agrarian theology of Siva-Sakti/Sky-Earth and the tradition of yoga (meditation) do not appear to be rooted in the Vedas. Not surprisingly, classical Saṅkhya is remarkably independent of orthodox Brahmanic traditions, including the Vedas.  Saṅkhya is silent about the Vedas, about their guardians (the Brahmins) and for that matter about the whole caste system, and about the Vedic gods; and it is slightly unfavorable towards the animal sacrifices that characterized the ancient Vedic religion. But all our early sources for the history of Saṅkhya belong to the Vedic tradition, and it is thus reasonable to suppose that we do not see in them the full development of the Saṅkhya system, but rather occasional glimpses of its development as it gained gradual acceptance in the Brahmanic fold.   Samkhya and Yoga are mentioned together for first time in the Shvetashvatra Upanishad. Bhagavad Gita identifies Samkhya with understanding or knowledge. The three gunas are also mentioned in the Gita, though they are not used in the same sense as in classical Samkhya. The Gita integrates Samkhya thought with the devotion of theistic schools and the impersonal Brahman of Vedanta.

Buddhism and Jainism had developed in Northeastern India by the 5th century BCE. It is probable that these schools of thought and the earliest schools of Samkhya influenced each other. A prominent similarity between Buddhism and Samkhya is the emphasis on suffering. However, suffering is not as central to Samkhya as it is to Buddhism. Therefore, it is likely that Samkhya imbibed this idea from Buddhism. Likewise, the Jain doctrine of plurality of individual souls could have influenced the concept of multiple purushas in Samkhya. It is likely, that Samkhya was molded by many ancient theories of soul in various Vedic and non-Vedic schools.

The Samkhya system espouses dualism between consciousness and matter by postulating two “irreducible, innate and independent realities:  Purusha and Prakriti. While the Prakriti is a single entity, the Samkhya admits a plurality of the Puruṣas in this world. Unintelligent, unmanifest, uncaused, ever-active, imperceptible and eternal Prakriti is alone the final source of the world of objects which is implicitly and potentially contained in its bosom. The Puruṣa is considered as the conscious principle, a passive enjoyer and the Prakriti is the enjoyed. Samkhya believes that the Puruṣa cannot be regarded as the source of inanimate world, because an intelligent principle cannot transform itself into the unconscious world. It is a pluralistic spiritualism, atheistic realism and uncompromising dualism. Purusa is the transcendental self or pure consciousness. It is absolute, independent, free, imperceptible, unknowable through other agencies, above any experience by mind or senses and beyond any words or explanations. It remains pure, “non-attributive consciousness”. Puruṣa is neither produced nor does it produce. It is held that unlike Adavita Vedanta and like Purva-Mimamsa, Samkhya believes in plurality of the Puruṣas.

All physical events are considered to be manifestations of the evolution of Prakriti, or primal nature (from which all physical bodies are derived). Each sentient being or Jiva is a fusion of Puruṣa and Prakriti, whose soul/Puruṣa is limitless and unrestricted by its physical body.  Samsara or bondage arises when the Puruṣa does not have the discriminate knowledge and so is misled as to its own identity, confusing itself with the Ego/ahamkara, which is actually an attribute of Prakriti. The spirit is liberated when the discriminate knowledge of the difference between conscious Puruṣa and unconscious Prakriti is realized by the Puruṣa.

By including mind in the realm of matter, Samkhya avoids one of the most serious pitfalls of Cartesian dualism, the violation of physical conservation laws. Because mind is an evolution of matter, mental events are granted causal efficacy and are therefore able to initiate bodily motions.   The idea of evolution in Samkhya revolves around the interaction of Prakriti and Purusha. Prakriti remains unmanifested as long as the three gunas are in equilibrium. This equilibrium of the gunas is disturbed when Prakriti comes into proximity with consciousness or Purusha. The metaphor of movement of iron in the proximity of a magnet is used to describe this process.    Some evolutes of Prakriti can cause further evolution and are labelled evolvents. For example, intellect while itself created out of Prakriti causes the evolution of ego-sense or ahamkara and is therefore an evolvent. While, other evolutes like the five elements do not cause further evolution. It is important to note that an evolvent is defined as a principle which behaves as the material cause for the evolution of another principle. So while the five elements are the material cause of all living beings, they cannot be called evolvents because living beings are not separate from the five elements in essence.

Evolution in Samkhya is thought to be purposeful. The two primary purposes of evolution of Prakriti are the enjoyment and the liberation of Purusha.   Like many other major schools of Indian Philosophy, Samkhya regards human existence as seat of intense suffering. Ignorance is regarded as the root cause of this suffering and bondage. Samkhya offers a way out of this suffering by means of discriminative knowledge (viveka). Such knowledge, that leads to mokṣa (liberation), involves the discrimination between Prakriti (avyakta-vyakta) and Puruṣa.

Puruṣa, the eternal pure consciousness, due to ignorance, identifies itself with products of Prakriti such as intellect (buddhi) and ego (ahamkara). This results in endless transmigration and suffering. However, once the realization arises that Puruṣa is distinct from Prakriti, the Self is no longer subject to transmigration and absolute freedom arises. Other forms of Samkhya teach that Mokṣa is attained by one’s own development of the higher faculties of discrimination achieved by meditation and other yogic practices as prescribed through the Hindu Vedas.  The Samkhya system is based on Sat-karya-vada or the theory of causation. According to Satkaryavada, the effect is pre-existent in the cause. There is only an apparent or illusory change in the makeup of the cause and not a material one, when it becomes effect. Since, effects cannot come from nothing, the original cause or ground of everything is seen as Prakriti.

The Samkhya system follows the PrakritiParinama Vada. Parinama denotes that the effect is a real transformation of the cause. The cause under consideration here is Prakriti or more precisely Primordial Matter. The Samkhya system is an exponent of an evolutionary theory of matter beginning with primordial matter. In evolution, Prakriti is transformed and differentiated into multiplicity of objects. Evolution is followed by dissolution. In dissolution the physical existence, all the worldly objects mingle back into Prakriti, which now remains as the undifferentiated, primordial substance. This is how the cycles of evolution and dissolution follow each other. But this theory is very different from the modern theories of science in the sense that Prakriti evolves for each Jeeva separately, giving individual bodies and minds to each and after liberation these elements of Prakriti merges into the Primordial Matter. Another uniqueness of Sāmkhya is that not only physical entities but even mind, ego and intelligence are regarded as forms of Unconsciousness, quite distinct from pure consciousness.

The evolution obeys causality relationships, with primal Nature itself being the material cause of all physical creation. The cause and effect theory of Samkhya is called Satkarya-vada (theory of existent causes), and holds that nothing can really be created from or destroyed into nothingness – all evolution is simply the transformation of primal Nature from one form to another.

Samkhya cosmology describes how life emerges in the universe; the relationship between Purusha and Prakriti is crucial to Patanjali’s yoga system. The strands of Samkhya thought can be traced back to the Vedic speculation of creation.  Samkhya accepts the notion of higher selves or perfected beings but rejects the notion of God. Classical Samkhya argues against the existence of God on metaphysical grounds. Samkhya theorists argue that an unchanging God cannot be the source of an ever changing world and that God was only a necessary metaphysical assumption demanded by circumstances. The Sutras of Samkhya have no explicit role for a separate God distinct from the Puruṣa. Such a distinct God is inconceivable and self-contradictory and some commentaries speak plainly on this subject.   If the existence of karma is assumed, the proposition of God as a moral governor of the universe is unnecessary. For, if God enforces the consequences of actions then he can do so without karma. If however, he is assumed to be within the law of karma, then karma itself would be the giver of consequences and there would be no need of a God. Even if karma is denied, God still cannot be the enforcer of consequences. Because the motives of an enforcer God would be either egoistic or altruistic. Now, God’s motives cannot be assumed to be altruistic because an altruistic God would not create a world so full of suffering. If his motives are assumed to be egoistic, then God must be thought to have desire, as agency or authority cannot be established in the absence of desire. However, assuming that God has desire would contradict God’s eternal freedom which necessitates no compulsion in actions. Moreover, desire, according to Samkhya, is an attribute of prakriti and cannot be thought to grow in God. The testimony of the Vedas, according to Samkhya, also confirms this notion.   Despite arguments to the contrary, if God is still assumed to contain unfulfilled desires, this would cause him to suffer pain and other similar human experiences. Such a worldly God would be no better than Samkhya’s notion of higher self.   Furthermore, there is no proof of the existence of God. He is not the object of perception, there exists no general proposition that can prove him by inference and the testimony of the Vedas speak of prakriti as the origin of the world, not God.

Therefore, Samkhya maintained that the various cosmological, ontological and teleological arguments could not prove God.

Kathy Kiefer

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